The only way to go

Governments are under increasing pressure to improve the quality and cost effectiveness of service delivery. The pressure comes as most governments face a shortfall of resources. Citizens in a consumer-oriented society, influenced in part by the growing sophistication of the web, expect governments to offer them choices on how they can access, receive and – in some cases – pay for services.

Besieged governments have to become “high performance” governments, delivering more and greater outcomes in a more efficient and responsible manner. It has been and will be no easy feat to make this transformation – but they have started, and there is increasing evidence of the move in this direction.

But how can you balance all of these competing pressures, to get the best value for your money? At Accenture, we have been asking these questions while working with academics and industry experts from around the world in our research institute and out in the field with clients.

Governments in Canada, including the Ontario government, are showing that they are committed to improving service delivery for citizens. The recent service guarantee by Dalton McGuinty’s government for birth certificates – 15 days or it’s free – is a good example of a new service relationship between the public service and the public. Such a guarantee can only be successful if the public service measures its performance and understands the service dynamic which contributes to successful outcomes. The commitment demonstrates a new level of confidence by government in its ability to consistently deliver high performance.

Performance measurements help an organization meet statutory responsibilities by assisting with planning, budgeting and managing day-to-day operations. In addition, the act of reporting these measures enhances a government’s accountability to its public. By setting service standards based on these metrics, a government is describing them as commitments to the public.

First, you get what you measure. In other words, behavior is driven in the direction of the outcome. Second, performance must be driven by linking costs to outcomes. Third, management must be committed to embedding management information systems into all levels of the organization; feedback must be relevant and reliable. If there is no commitment within the agency to embed performance measurements into the system, the desired result (high performance) will never be achieved.

In many instances, this service transformation will start with the workforce. Investment in new skills for Canada’s public service is vital. As well, new organizational models built to focus on service delivery, like Service Ontario, Service Canada or shared services models, are important to ensure concentrated performance management and consistent measurements for success. For instance, shared services frees up scarce resources to allow departments and agencies to focus on their core businesses and on their customer needs, while providing organizational flexibility to leave administrative back-office structures independent of front-line activities and structures.

New technologies to offer new delivery channels for citizens, and training in them, will also be important. In Canada, our research has shown that Canadians continue to prefer the phone for interacting with the government, but there should still be a focused mix in service delivery.

At Accenture, we have been studying and researching public sector value as a tool to justify outcomes and the cost of providing service. The Accenture Public Sector Value Model aims to measure outcomes and make governments more confident that they are doing everything possible to be accountable to and deliver value to constituents. Around the world, we are seeing increasing interest in this model by governments in how to report results to the public.

We have noted that a number of governments are making real headway on the road to effective performance measurement. Certain practices have come to the fore among these “pockets of success,” including:

Concentrate on performance management at the agency or team level.

Focus on setting goals and performance expectations to guide measurement.

Support – but don’t drive – performance management initiatives with new technology.

Use legislative and regulatory mandates to create a consistent, cross-administration push.

Understand that performance management is an iterative process.

Service guarantees should be seen not as gimmicks but as commitments by elected officials to stand behind their pledges of improved public services. Governments must always keep in mind the measurements and factors for improving service delivery. If you don’t measure performance or build the right foundation, promises can easily fall short.

Michael Jordan ([email protected]) is a partner in the Government Operating Group for Accenture in Canada.

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